Living, working with holy popes, secretaries struck by their faith

 Banner for papal canonization
Nuns from Brazil take photos in front of a large banner of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II in Rome April 25. Pilgrims have begun streaming into Rome for the April 27 canonization of Blesseds John and John Paul at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)


By Cindy Wooden

Two cardinals who not only worked with the future Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II but lived with them said they knew their bosses were saints because of their simple faith and goodness.

Cardinal Loris Capovilla, 98, who served as Blessed John's secretary for 10 years, and Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who served as Blessed John Paul's secretary for 39 years, spoke to reporters at the Vatican April 25 about the canonization of the two popes.

Cardinal Capovilla, who spoke from northern Italy, told reporters they would have to forgive him for being "an old priest," who was "emotional, confused and intimidated" by the video link with the media at the Vatican.

"I feel the greatness and beauty of this moment we are living," said the cardinal, who was not planning on making the journey to Rome for the April 27 canonization Mass.

Childlike saint
While Pope John was 81 when he died in 1963, "I didn't witness the death of an old man. I saw a child die," the cardinal said. Pope John had the gleam in his eyes of a child and a smile on his lips.

"Saints are those who remain children," Cardinal Capovilla said, maintaining youthful energy and enthusiasm as they follow the path God sets out for them.

Summarizing the character of Pope John, the cardinal spoke about his eyes and his "smile, innocence and goodness. It's also true for Pope John Paul."

The cardinal said, "The whole world seems united in these days" around the figures of the two holy popes. That kind of unity is something for which they both prayed and worked.

Asking forgiveness for not being able to verbalize "all that is swirling around in my heart," Cardinal Capovilla asked people to honor the lives of the new saints by loving one another.

'I lived with a saint'
Cardinal Dziwisz, who turns 75 on the canonization day, first met the then-Father Karol Wojtyla at a Polish seminary. He told reporters, "for 39 years I lived with John Paul II. ... I lived with a saint. And I wasn't the only one who thought so."

Pope John Paul was a great professor, priest, bishop, cardinal and pope, he said, but his holiness was seen in his prayer. He was always going into a chapel and praying for different nations, for situations of injustice and for individuals.

"People often ask me how many hours a day he prayed," the cardinal said. "He prayed with his life. You can't divide his prayer from his life. His whole life was a prayer and everything that happened passed through prayer."

His holiness also was evident in his "holy suffering," the way he handled the suffering that punctuated his whole life: losing his mother at a young age, then his brother and then his father; the 1981 assassination attempt; and, finally, Parkinson's disease.

"I was in the ambulance with him" after he was shot, the cardinal said. "He was praying for his assailant. Although he didn't know who he was, he already forgave him."

"He never complained," Cardinal Dziwisz said. "Christ saved the world through the cross," and Pope John Paul offered his suffering as a prayer for the world.

As he aged and weakened, the cardinal said, Pope John Paul became more intent on preparing for a holy death. He always had believed that "human life should be a time of preparation for death because it would be a person's greatest moment of encounter, meeting the Lord."

Catholic News Service - April 25, 2014